Digital Classrooms

For someone of my generation, the rise of internet giants like Amazon and Google was remarkable to watch.  One of the final activities of the year for my World History classes was a chart comparing the technology available to them with what was available to me when I was their age, as well as the two generations before me.  The chart included columns for the year 1916 (when my grandfather was their age), 1951 (my father), 1977 (me), and the current year in which my students were completing the assignment.

The results were astounding to them.  They were not as surprised by the limited technology in 1916 and 1951 as they were by what “little” I had as a sophomore in high school.  They were amazed to learn that there was (at least for a typical teenager like me at the time) no internet, no cell phones, no email, no video games, no microwave ovens, no cable television, few hand held video cameras, no global positioning systems, no voicemail, no drones, no electric or hybrid cars, no video streaming, and no iTunes (Apple was just getting started at the time).

There was certainly no Amazon and Google when I was young.  Amazon was a miracle to a book lover like me when I discovered that I could order whatever book I wanted from anywhere in the world and it would arrive on my doorstep.  And Google went from a search engine twenty years ago to one of the largest and most powerful brands in the world, transforming everything from travel to transportation to business communication.

And, of course, education.  In the summer of 2014 I was moved to a new classroom after nine years when my old room was scheduled to be changed into a practice space for the wrestling team.  My initial irritation dissipated into excitement when I had a look at my new room and saw that it was much larger than the old one, had two doors, more updated equipment, and more storage space.  That was also the year that Google Classroom was introduced, and my school district decided to embrace it.

My top level students were the early adopters, saving their homework, essays, and projects on Google Drive and then posting them to the available Google Classrooms.  Not all the teachers jumped on the bandwagon.  I finally got around to setting my periods up online in 2015, a year into the experiment.  By that time, most of my students of all levels had signed up.  By the end of that school year, nearly all my students’ quarter projects were saved to Drive and ready to present to the class.

Three years in, I was hooked. I couldn’t imagine receiving major assignments any other way. I still had plenty of students who turned in their work the old fashioned way, i.e., homework written out longhand on lined paper and projects presented on poster board. But most had made the transition to the digital classroom.

With new technology came new challenges. The temptation to plagiarize increased with online essays, but the permanency of internet postings served to deter some from leaving a noticeable record of academic dishonesty. I caught some students posting a classmate’s work as their own after simply inserting their own names. Some work was late because of equipment failure or server shutdowns. But overall, the move to the digital classroom was a smooth one.

Who knows what new wonders await the next generation? The kids who will be sixteen years old in 2034 may not even use paper anymore in school. Tests may be taken in a 3-D tangible image. Projects may be presented with holograms. Digital headsets may allow for telepathic communication.

All that is certain is that the technology curve is exponential rather than arithmetic. If my father had twice as much gadgetry at his fingertips as his father, and I had five times as much as my father, my students had ten or twenty times as much as I. Their children may have a hundred times more. An exciting future awaits the students and teachers of tomorrow who are willing to embrace it.

Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

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